Comfort-food evolving with the times

by Bryan Salvage
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NEW YORK — New ways are being found to fulfill the comfort-food cravings of aging Baby Boomers and Generation Y consumers, according to the Generational Comfort Food Culinary Trend Mapping Report co-published by the Center for Culinary Development and Packaged Facts. Based, in part, on a national survey of more than 3,700 people, the survey was conducted by C.C.D. in June 2009 and focuses on comfort-food preferences.

Consumers are passionate about their comfort foods, many of which stem from childhood favorites, the survey confirms. Childhood comfort food varies, depending on who's eating it, said Kimberly Egan, C.C.D.’s chief executive. "Each generation has different needs and tastes, including more healthful fare, gourmet ingredients and bolder flavors, which are reflected in their go-to comfort foods," she added.

Although the survey showed the overall food category preferred by all ages was sweets, individual responses revealed a more nuanced generational portrait of comfort-food preferences. While many participants craved chicken soup, Gen Yers also turned to Vietnamese pho. Gen Xers gravitate to beloved branded foods while Boomers are skewing premium — but keeping an eye on health.

The overarching trends driving today's comfort foods are:

  • Contemporary quality — All three generational groups are seeking higher-quality food experiences and these are surfacing in updated versions of old favorites. New, leaner meats appear in meatloaf, for example. Additional upgrades include fresh herbs and exotic spices, artisan cheeses, and natural and organic ingredients.
  • The new diversity — Although Baby Boomers have a decided taste for exotic flavors, diverse Generation Y is adopting global comfort dishes like Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho), sushi, and Indian and Thai curries. Global flavors are enhancing comfort classics.
  • Balanced eating — Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are trying to balance indulgent comfort foods with more healthful versions using fresh vegetables, sustaining whole grains and leaner meats. Gen Y grew up learning nutrition basics and now craves fresh fruit for a healthful burst and cheese in all forms for a protein and flavor boost.
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